Wednesday, November 14, 2007

An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything



I'm not sure yet whether all the attention is good, or if all the hype will have a negative impact, but this has certainly been a strange week. The interest in my work among physicists has been building steadily over the past few months. I've been presenting at conferences, getting invited to cool places, and exchanging emails with some of the best people in physics. But things started getting a little out of control last week when I posted my paper to the physics archive:

An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything

Yes, the title is a little much. Technically, a Grand Unified Theory in physics is a theory unifying the electromagnetic, weak, and strong forces as parts of a single Lie group. And if gravity is described in a unified framework like this, it's called a Theory of Everything, because that's all the forces we know of. The paper describes a new theory of how to do this, with all these forces (and all matter) as parts of the largest simple exceptional Lie group, E8 (which is very beautiful). So the title is technically accurate, but I probably should have made it less sensational. Especially since the paper does not include the details of a complete quantum description, which is really necessary for it to qualify as a successful ToE. (I'm counting on combining my work with that of the Loop Quantum Gravity community to build a full quantum E8 theory of everything.)

The physics arxiv has gotten more restrictive on how they accept and classify papers. I originally submitted this article under the general relativity classification, but they immediately moved it to high energy particle theory. Then, a day after it came out, it got unceremoniously booted to the general physics classification -- the cesspool the arxiv uses to collect non-string and/or whacky, overreaching papers. Then, the next day, it got reclassified back to high energy theory! (This never happens, and I was quite amused.)

The paper immediately precipitated a physics blogalanche:
Backreaction This was the first, and probably the best summary of the paper.
Physics Forums
The Reference Frame Can you tell he's a string theorist? I love this guy, almost everything he says is dead wrong, and he just makes me look better.
Hidden Variables
Not Even Wrong
Arcadian Functor
Freedom of Science This one cracks me up. Apparently I'm a media whore, and only doing physics for the money; but at least I'm in good company.
Theoreman Egregium
Science Forums
And at this point I've stopped being able to keep track, which I suppose means this is my fifteen minutes of fame.

Yesterday morning, I presented a talk to the
International Loop Quantum Gravity Seminar
which is a teleconferece among physicists at a consortium of fourteen universities around the world. That went very well. Some of the key players agree that this theory and LQG make a good match. (The (very technical) talk and slides are available from that page, but the first two minutes are cut off.)

Then, a few hours ago, the story hit the popular press:
The Telegraph (Apparently, I'm to be immortalized for the words "Holy crap!")
New Scientist Top story. I haven't been able to read this article yet, because I don't have a subscription.

All the attention has been fun, but a bit overwhelming, and I think I just want to go back to playing with equations for a few months. I hope people can keep in mind that this is just a theory, it has no experimental support, and it might be wrong. I think it's got a shot, which is why I work on it, but it's still just a developing theory. So don't go crazy, people; but yes, it is pretty damn cool.

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gar@lisi.com